Leadership Targeting and Militant Alliance Breakdown

Christopher W. Blair, Michael C. Horowitz, Philip B.K. Potter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Existing research finds that cooperation among militant groups is common and contributes to both capabilities and lethality. Comparatively little is known, however, about how militant alliances are maintained and how they break apart. We argue that leaders are critical to sustaining alliances among militant groups. As a consequence, organizational disruption in the form of leadership targeting can lead to the breakdown of militant alliances. To test this argument, we pair original data on militant alliances with data on leadership targeting to reveal that decapitating an organization’s leader, and particularly its founder, increases the probability that an organization’s alliances terminate. We find that leadership decapitation spurs alliance termination by incapacitating targeted groups, stoking fear among allies, and inducing preference divergence between targeted groups and allies over strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)923-943
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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